Jane Vanroe on collecting vintage powder compacts and compact mirrors. You can find Jane's designs at www.vanroe.com and on Amazon in the EU & USA
This is my story of how the life of one 1920’s British lady spoke through her greetings cards, and gave me the design for my most popular ‘good luck’ compact mirror. (First published at Vanroe Compact Mirrors.)
A friend once gave me two Chinese paintings. One had the symbol for ‘good luck’, the other ‘best wishes’. I loved the thought behind the gifts, and they made me wonder, was it possible to find meaningful good luck gifts in our own English tradition?
Three years later and I’m researching ideas for my first compact mirrors. I use vintage finds to inspire me – little postcards and treasures that make me feel connected with moments in women’s lives from the recent, and sometimes very far, past. On this search I stumble across a box of greetings cards from the estate of a British lady, Rose. Rose had kept the cards from the important days in her teens to her thirties. There were almost one hundred cards in the box, all from the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s.
When Rose’s box arrived I unpacked memories of a lady I never met, but whose life and friendships spoke through her cards. There were 21st birthday cards from her brother, Eddy, and friends Mildred and Alf. Birthday wishes arrived from a sweetheart, ‘Harper’, and I found later cards from Harper to ‘his darling wife’. Harper’s card from the early forties stopped my heart for a moment with the simple message ‘and may we soon be together again’. Rose’s cards stop around this date so I can’t know what happened to their lives around the second world war. (I can’t think too deeply about Harper and Rose’s story as I’ll tear up…). But Rose’s cards are now my treasure too, and they went on to deeply inspire my work.
You see, looking through Rose’s collection I noticed card after card had pretty blue and black swallow birds worked into their design. It was something I’d seldom seen in modern cards I’d received, so I did a little research. I found that the swallow was a favourite symbol for early greetings cards, especially between the two wars. The swallow travels hundreds of miles to return to the same nesting place every year. It symbolises good luck, best wishes, safe return and homecoming. These were sentiments appropriate even to birthdays after the terrible impact of the First World War (and while living like Rose in the shadow of the second).
Thinking back to those Chinese ‘good luck’ symbols lying in my drawer, I realised that the swallow said the same thing. It was our symbol for good luck and best wishes, drawn from the English countryside and our recent history. Enormously excited, I made Rose’s swallow the central motif for my first design. So Rose’s cards came full circle, from treasured wishes in the 1920’s and 30’s, to inspiring what I hope will become a treasured gift almost one hundred years later.
As you can see below in my notebook, the Rose & Swallow design arrived almost fully formed. Initially drawn with two swallows, I simplified the design to one bird in my next sketch. This was to better balance the other design motif, my roses. I wanted to include something very pretty and English with the swallows, and as my thank you to Rose for her beautiful cards, what would be more appropriate than wild English roses? But these roses took some thought. I’d used an Art Deco dress clip as the inspiration for my swallow (you can see this on my Vanroe compact mirrors pinterest and in my sketch book below), simply making the lines stronger and cleaner. But how to represent rambling delicate roses in a few strokes of metal?
Rose’s cards again provided the inspiration. All were hand-drawn for the print techniques of the day, and the 1930’s artists created fine stylised flowers and leaves in just a few strokes of ink. I took the simple shapes of their fuller flowers, and sketched a circlet of stamens to represent the untidy beauty of English roses.
My Rose & Swallow has now become a bestselling design, with compact mirrors being sent as good luck, leaving and graduation gifts around the world. It feels incredibly special to have something I’ve designed become part of your stories. Thank you Rose!
You can find the Rose & Swallow design as a pocket mirror and compact mirror at my other site, Vanroe Compact Mirrors. You might also like to join me (and over 1,000 others!) on our Facebook page for the latest from my sketchbooks… hope to meet you there! x